Cheryl Funk made it to the Challenge for Life finish line, but the Winnipeg accountant admits last year's charity event left her sore, out of breath and fatigued.
"It was pretty tough, the last five kilometres of the walk. It was a very hot day," says Funk, who walked the Cancer Care Manitoba fundraiser with her Bison Transport co-workers. "I didn't feel so well by the end."
Funk, 53, was too exhausted to stay for the closing ceremony and instead hobbled back to her car, drove home and rested her blistered feet.
In hindsight, Funk -- who has struggled with her weight her whole life -- realized she didn't train well enough for the event. And she needed to eat better and lose weight. She was out of shape and she wanted to get healthy.
So last August, she decided to do just that. She made training for the 2012 Challenge for Life a priority.
The walking event, now in its fifth year, raises money for cancer treatment and research in the province.
Now Funk is 56 pounds lighter, down to a size 12 from a size 20.
And she's more determined than ever to walk the 2012 walk next Saturday briskly, without the aches and pains she suffered last year.
Funk says taking steps towards good health wasn't easy.
"It's hard. Trying to lose weight and getting fit is a big mental game," says Funk, who is shy and modest about her accomplishments. "I've always felt like I didn't have time to concentrate on that. Work was always very busy. I just didn't take the time to care for myself."
It was the charity walk that changed everything -- her body and her state of mind. "The whole Challenge for Life thing -- they were encouraging us to challenge ourselves and have some sort of goal," she says.
How did she do it?
Her regimen includes workouts at Curves three to four times weekly. The women-only fitness chain offers circuit training on special hydraulic-system machines that offer both cardiovascular exercise combined with resistance training. Walking makes up the other part of her exercise routine. She often hits the pavement around her Crescentwood neighbourhood.
To mix things up when she gets bored of her neighbourhood walks, she heads to Assiniboine Park or to Birds Hill. She also walks with a Saturday Challenge for Life training group.
During most of her weekday lunch breaks, she walks a St. James trail near work.
Her roadwork has helped her discover a whole new Winnipeg she had never seen before. "That's what I've found. The city has a lot of walkways, bikeways, that kind of thing. Even the little statues near the edge of Grant and Moray," she says. "Those aren't the kinds of things you see if you're just driving."
To kick-start her lower-calorie eating regimen, she joined Jenny Craig, which offers prepared meals. Now she's graduated to making her own food a few times weekly. Her meals include lots of salads, vegetables and grilled meat.
It took a few months of exercise and lower-calorie eating before she lost her first 20 pounds. "My clothes started to feel looser," says Funk.
By March, she had lost a total of 35 pounds and had to buy a new wardrobe for the Grand Cayman Islands trip she took with her sisters.
Now down 56 pounds, Funk says she has 10 more pounds before she reaches her goal.
She says she's come a long way from the days when she couldn't climb up a flight of stairs and was a slave to her chocolate and fast food cravings.
But the biggest change is the confidence her newfound fitness has given her.
She's still not used to the compliments from people at work or from her church.
"People are noticing so much now that sometimes it feels a little awkward having so many compliments. I've never been somebody who would have received them," she says. "And people are very positive about the change and about the way I look."
What drives her to keep going?
Some of the people she's known -- a few at her church -- who have had cancer. Some have survived, some haven't.
"You never know when cancer is going to hit," says Funk. "But I don't dwell on it."
For now, it's all positive about the upcoming Challenge for Life.
"I think I'll finish in close to the same time as last year," she says.
"But I think I'll feel so much better."
Challenge for Life organizers say they need at least 100 more people to register for the June 9 event. Each participant is required to raise $1,000 to enter. For more information, log onto the Cancer Care Manitoba Foundation website at www.cancercarefdn.mb.ca
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